Rome Market Puts Spotlight on TV as Italy Looks to Lure Hollywood Back

Lucia Milazzotto - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of MIA

The eternal city's film market, which kicks off Thursday, positions itself as "a highly selective content hub where people can pick a variety of projects or partners in one place in a very short time frame."

Hollywood loves Italy, as any star who visits the country is sure to mention as soon as they get off the plane. From Lake Como to the Amalfi Coast, the country is chock-full of celebrity vacationers on any given weekend.

But despite its best recent efforts, the country is a far cry from the 1950s and '60s when Rome’s Cinecitta Studios, one of Europe’s largest studios, was known as the “Hollywood on the Tibur,” attracting the swords-and-sandals epics that defined the era.

Even with a series of long-lobbied tax credits passing, only a handful of big-budget films have so far made their way to the eternal city. But Rome is coming back with a multi-pronged approach with a big government boost to compete on a global level, and this time television is leading the way.

With local productions like Gomorrah and The Young Pope rivaling top-tier American series, TV has become central to attempts to focus Hollywood eyes back on to Italy. And with new, larger and easier tax credits on the way, as well as enhanced production facilities, Italy is ready for a possible revival.

At the center of it is Rome’s MIA, an audiovisual market that was founded in 2015 for films and documentaries, with a particular focus on television. The market, which kicks off on Thursday, is conveniently timed to take place directly after MIPCOM, so executives can jaunt over to Rome for a more relaxed atmosphere of networking before gearing up again for AFM.

“It’s a highly selective content hub where people can pick a variety of projects or partners in one place in a very short time frame,” says MIA director Lucia Milazzotto about the advantages of the still-cozy marketplace that is growing quickly. This year 1,100 executives are attending from 50 countries, up 20 percent from last year, with a total of 45 executives coming from the U.S.

In addition to the market’s popular drama series pitching forum, this year will also debut Italian TV upfronts in order to present the best Italian TV series in the works for international partners.

MIA was also founded to increase the number of co-productions in Italy, and Milazzotto believes that the market is the perfect place to link up with top local talent. “Italy does not just hold the record for most foreign-language Oscars, but you see Italians winning across all crafts: art direction, cinematography, makeup, score, costume design and editing,” she says.  

“The national public broadcaster RAI and several cinemas and TV productions have their headquarters in Rome, a city that also hosts renowned audiovisual professionals and technicians, providing precious human resources in this field,” says Italian culture minister Dario Franceschini. “Rome is also a natural location, perfect as a movie set and, now, Italy is a production-friendly country thanks to the tax credit for audiovisual and cinema industries.”

But it’s not just the top-tier talent that is bringing Hollywood back to Rome. The famed Cinecitta Studios are getting a massive renovation after being returned to state ownership this summer after years of private control.

“We are a state company. We don’t have to share profits with anybody," says new CEO Roberto Cicutto, who expects to break even by 2020. "Everything will be invested back into the studios to make our facilities better and better for our customers."

The industry is hoping that the combination of the tax credits and renovated facilities will help put Rome back on par with U.K. and Irish film offerings. “A variable amount between 15 percent and 40 percent of the investment can be deducted from taxation, an excellent benefit for this creative industry,” Franceschini explains.

Perhaps most importantly, the new tax benefits, up 60 percent with an annual minimum allocation of $472 million, will be easier than ever to pocket. “We are setting up a way to recoup taxes very, very quickly. It was a nightmare before,” Cicutto says.  

And Hollywood is quickly taking note. Longtime HBO producer Ilene Landress, who had a great experience shooting The Sopranos in Naples more than a decade ago, said it didn’t take much to convince her to attend MIA. “Cacio e Pepe? A good Barolo? I can do Rome,” she says, noting that she is interested in learning more about the local offerings. “It’s always interesting to meet the international players. I don’t even look at it as TV anymore. It’s screens, global screens.”

Studio 8’s head of television Katherine Pope is also excited about having the opportunity to sit down and connect with local talent. “I think the goal is to build relationships,” she says. “I saw that happen 10 years ago in the U.K. Those shows started increasing in quality, and those writers started crossing borders. That’s something we should be excited about. In a world where you watch Netflix all day, and subtitles all day, the language barriers are no longer an issue for audiences.”

“MIA has become a great opportunity to meet top European producers and broadcasters, and last year we were able to initiate multiple projects from our meetings at MIA,” said WME’s Lorenzo De Maio who is attending for his second year.

While MIA generally focuses on European topics at large, Steve Wohl, head of international television at Paradigm, is excited to be able to focus on Italian talent. “MIPCOM is so overwhelming with the hectic scheduling, it is challenging to concentrate on one territory,” said Wohl. “We’ve focused so much on Scandinavia, France and Spain and truly believe that Italy can be the next great territory to be discovered.”

And it’s not just the market that is making a big push for TV this year. Rome Film Fest, which this year takes place after MIA, in addition to hosting its popular cinema talks with the likes of Jake Gyllenhaal, Christoph Waltz, Ian McKellen and Vanessa Redgrave, is also putting a big focus on TV this year.

The festival will screen Babylon Berlin, one of the most-expensive non-English language TV shows ever produced at a reported budget of $47 million. Co-written and co-directed by Tom Tykwer, Achim von Borries and Henk Handloegten, the new series is an ambitious crime drama set in pre-World War II Berlin about a German detective sent to investigate a Russian mafia porn ring.

Describing the show as “one of the most visionary TV shows in recent years, a perfect European product,” festival director Antonio Monda says he wants to use his position to “show how European TV can do series that are equally significant as the famous American series.”

Monda believes the fest offers TV series “more than just a red carpet, but a serious celebration of the work." He adds: “As long as I am director, we will always have a slot for a top series.” With the festival recently renewing his position through 2020, Rome will have ample opportunity to promote future European productions.